CAMERAE OBSCURAE: THE MONOCHROME DIGITAL CAMERA

P1010363a

Latest rumors from separated sources are reporting that Leica will produce a special camera with a black and white sensor – a sensor dedicated to monochrome processing exclusively. It appears that it will look like a M9 and that the sensor will be produced by Kodak.
There is also a little debate on whether it will include a back LCD screen or not.

Well, I confess that some months ago I was wondering exactly of such a camera, only capable of B&W images. I even wrote a couple of enthusuastic lines, but they remained in the proofs of this blog’s dashboard for months. Then I started to think that a B&W dedicated camera in the digital era makes poor sense: knowing how market works, I thought that it would have been developed starting from a “normal” existing camera model, from which colour processing would just been denied in the final image output.
To be honest, Kodak in the past attempted to sell a digital monochrome camera, the Kodak DCS 760m, but it has been abandoned soon (you can read a comprehensive review here). For these reasons, I forgot the idea for a while.

Now, after the leaking news from Leica, I mumbled once more about it and I realized that, on the contrary, it could have the potential to enhance a new growth in the photographic field. If this upcoming “B&W-total” sensor has been newly designed for monochrome processing, and it has been developed in an innovation and improvement view, it will have the opportunity to stand as a serious technology.
I expect that this sensor won’t include a Bayer matrix, just because pure monochrome light doesn’t need to be filtered and splitted in a composition of separated colours: maybe a UV/IR filter should be enough.
By the way, being a B&W total camera, it should pay a special attention to infrared radiation, because IR has always been an important part of B&W photography, and it should be sensitive at least up to 1000 – 1200 nm (just to go beyond the glorious Kodak HIE film).
Also UV radiation has been used in B&W photography, so it would be interesting to find a “IR / UV switch”, or two separated “IR gain” and “UV gain” which the photographer can add to the pictures when he wants an IR or UV sensitivity from the sensor.

Juniper on a balcony

I also expect that avoiding demosaicisation (consequent to the Bayer matrix) will help the producers to obtain an enhanced image quality, more sharpness, far less noise production and, most of all, a very effective processing capacity, in the aim to develop outstanding in-camera image editing: they should include a wide control on overall contrast, microcontrast, masking and oher typical monochrome processings, like toning (platinum toning, gold toning, etc.), print effects (salt print, bromoil print, etc.) and others.

Speaking of advanced B&W, it would also be very useful to have an internal Zone System reference: I imagine a built-in analyzer that highlights all the “zones” present in a picture and helps to process the image correctly according to the 12 zones scale method as described by Ansel Adams. The analyzer can be developed at viewfinder/monitor level or, later, at editing level. It would also result in a very powerful didactic tool.

I’m only dreaming, I definitely think so. I’m not optimistic on this rumor and I still think that in the end this will be a sort of advanced marketing operation by Leica, launched some months before the next M10 model.
However, I like to think that if a monochrome camera idea will be developed in an intelligent way, by Leica or anyone else out there, avoiding any film-era nostalgia and exploring new techniques for digital B&W photography, it will result in a wonderful opportunity for everybody.
Official announce will be given by Leica on May 10th.

Sources:
Mirrorles rumors
Leica rumors
Leica Monochrome sensor made by Platinum Equity (Kodak)

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